Spartans and Cavaliers In Different Places Mentally as Big Game Matchup Looms Large
Madison Square Garden
New York City, New York
It is the day before #4 MSU tips-off with #1 Virginia. On what is billed as basketball’s biggest stage, Madison Square Garden, the Spartans and the Cavaliers couldn’t be any more different.
Sure the match-ups player by player are very similar. Both teams possess great size and athleticism. Both teams are extremely well coached. Both teams play with a ‘defense-first’ mentality and both teams have B1G TEN roots; Tony Bennett is the son of former Badgers coach Dick Bennett.
The year that MSU won it all (2000), they beat Wisconsin four consecutive times. All the while, Tony Bennett (now the UVA head coach) sat the bench as an assistant coach and watched his father’s team get beaten time after time.
The UVA style of play is extremely methodical. It is taken right out of the Dick Bennett school of basketball. The Tony Bennett UVA version seems very similar, but it is bit more polished with more length and overall talent. Tom Izzo had this to say about Virginia. “Well, I think it will be a physical game. I played so many times against his dad, and I mean this is a chip off the old block, as they say. Those games were just wars. Now, the way it’s being called outside… it might not be very physical and inside it might be really physical.”
Tom spoke a bit about his team’s ability to play multiple styles. “But like I said, I really think we can play both ways. I don’t think that’s going to be whether we win or lose, I think how we guard and how we take care of the ball and how they do (is what it will come down to), it’s not going to be the arena, it’s not going to be the physical nature, the worry I think every coach has right now; if it gets physical, how is it going to be called? And are you going to have your best player sitting on the bench much? I think that’s the biggest concern.”
The Spartan players were loose and happy to be playing basketball again this weekend. Dawson was dancing a little bit as his counterpart Adreian Payne powered down some Buffalo wings. Hopefully this is what MSU needs in order to prep for UVA. When MSU is having fun, they tend to play well and they tend to share the ball a lot. Hopefully, all the smiles are indicative of a team that is ready to play and it ready to play for each other.
Virginia’s players were quite the opposite. From my vantage point, UVA didn’t seem tight, however, they carried themselves this afternoon like corporate assassins headed to the boardroom. I liked their demeanor. They know what they are in for against the Spartans. There is too much Izzo / Bennett history for them to be unprepared. Virginia looks like a team that is well prepared and ready to win.
UVA’s Power Forward, Akil Mitchell talked about his impending match-up with MSU star forward Adreian Payne. “Yeah, he will be a tough matchup. He’s been a tough matchup for teams all year because he can stretch to floor, he’s got good touch and he can also put the ball on the floor and post-up also. So he’ll be a good matchup for us, but I think we’ll be prepared.”
Virginia is the ACC’s lone representative left in the NCAA tournament. Either the ACC was overrated most of the season or they ran into some bad match-ups in the dance. Either way, Virginia is in NYC to represent.
UVA Coach Tony Bennett had this to say about MSU’S fast break. “Yeah they’ve always been (a fast break) team as long as I’ve watched Coach’s (Izzo) team, boy, this year they can really spread the floor with their ability to shoot…their speed getting up the floor. They have some bigs that can trail and shoot it as well.
Bennett continued by saying, “Someone asked me before, are there any teams you’ve played against that have prepared you for Michigan State? And certainly, Carolina runs, even Memphis… their speed in transition, but what I think is unique or very good about Michigan State is that they are very complete when they run. It’s not like they have one guy who can buzz up the floor off the dribble, and they go to the rack. They will do that and they can get there with their players, but they also kick it up, spread it with their shooters, they got rim runners and it’s what they do when they drill it. And that’s something he’s always done, and I think this is one of his best teams in transition that I’ve seen.”
The official spread for tomorrow’s game has Michigan State favored by 2. Both of these teams are battle tested. Both have polar opposite offensive philosophies and both of them won their conference tournaments. It’s the B1G TEN’s heavy weight against the ACC’s only darling. This game will be determined by fouls and turnovers. If MSU can stay disciplined, I like their chances. If MSU gets called early for ticky-tack fouls, UVA advances. GO GREEN!!